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Podcast: David Paull of Dialsmith on creating effective messaging

We spoke with David Paull, founder of Dialsmith, about how effective messaging follows a storytelling framework that anyone can deploy. He covers four main steps that should be followed to get it right.

Back to Resources / Podcast: David Paull of Dialsmith on creating effective messaging

On our podcast, we recently hosted David Paull, founder of Dialsmith, a technology and consulting company that has pioneered an instant and continuous moment-to-moment feedback. Its tools are used in-person, in online focus groups, IDIs, at corporate meetings and events, and more to help learn what people really think so you can use that information when making critical business decisions. David is also on the TedX Portland leadership team. He came on the show to talk about how effective messaging follows a storytelling framework that anyone can deploy.


He starts with an overview of how effective listening is the foundation for messaging projects, grounded in four main things. First, it requires an understanding of the persona of the ideal customer, at the deepest possible emotional level an emotional level: what's important and critical to your target customers as it relates to what it is that you're offering. Secondly then is understanding all the behavioral psychology and cognitive biases that come into play when people process information and make decisions. David says you can either short circuit those or lean into them to use them to your advantage, but this requires really understanding the irrational ways in which people make decisions. Next, we move into a storytelling framework for messaging and, finally, testing and refinement of the messaging.

Customer personas

David says that best practices at this stage require going beyond the superficial and getting into the so heart and mind of that potential customer. This requires examining more than just what a company sells and how that relates, but getting to the bottom of why they need a product or service. He says we should focus on “peeling back those layers of the onion to get to the core, underlying things that really affect them on a day-to-day basis: what kinds of things can give them anxiety, what can shake their confidence or what could potentially embarrass them in front of their boss or in front of colleagues.”  These are the kinds of emotional triggers that are going to help us drive sales by creating messaging that’s based in how well you understand your type of customer and formulate that in-depth persona. Too often, companies make assumptions that they know their customers already, but the right market research will show that there is more to the picture.

Cognitive biases

This is a tricky step in the process that delves into the heuristics that people use in order to make decisions – often done on a subconscious basis. This topic has become more prevalent over the last 10-12 years and there are many known documented cognitive biases. At the very least, we must address and become well-versed in the more common ones, which are things like framing effect, self-reference effect, confirmation bias and things like that.  You can then use these as you're crafting messages and crafting stories i to tap into the way people think and make decisions. David goes on to give some fascinating examples of how this works in some real-world scenarios.

Story-telling framework

Crafting messages and stories for clients starts by uncovering the answer to “what is the real problem that the client has.” David says that's why persona work is so important, because it's not the superficial problem that people will “off the cuff” tell you that they have. It’s the root problem that is uncovered as you peel away the layers and that what we must solve. It is the solution to this root problem where the messaging itself is crafted, and then it is about telling a story and creating narrative-based messaging that speaks much more to the heart than to the head. Messaging should pull emotional levers, because this is what drives decision-making. Even better, back the messaging by data and statistics which has a greater impact.

Testing and refinement

At Dialsmith, David says they usually start with at least two versions of messaging, which they run through their proprietary framework. They use their tools to enter a message testing phase so they can uncover what research participants think of a message at every moment. This allows the team to go back and analyze every word and every phrase in real-time, using aided recall. By using more traditional recall techniques, you are left with faulty and limited information – he says “memory is fiction.” Dialsmith’s approach is different, as their tools allow them to go back to particular moment and talk to a participant about why they reacted the way they reacted. This gives much deeper and richer feedback in order to compare the versions of the messaging and find that which is the closest to the mark.  

We conclude by chatting with David about what “good” looks like and what outcomes can be expected when we get the messaging just right.

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